Ommatidium: The Most Remarkable Street Lamp You’ll Ever See

Made from a canopy of 1,500 glass crystal lenses (weighting a total of 600kg), the Ommatidium street lamp is a collaboration between industrial designer Samuel Wilkinson and the world-leading neuroscientist and perception specialist Beau Lotto. It was designed to act as a new site-specific sculptural icon for London’s Hoxton area and was featured during this year’s London Design Festival. Over the course of the last year, Wilkinson worked with Lotto Lab to conceive and construct a concept for a 21st century street lamp. Drawing a parallel between the fragmented nature of the digital world, with its kaleidoscope of different perspectives, and the refractive behaviour of prisms, Wilkinson and Lotto hit upon the concept of a giant, multifaceted lens canopy that would turn sunlight into an ever-changing display of rainbows on the pavement.

“This installation was never about designing a loud provocative object,” says Wilkinson. “It was more to create something that fitted with the vernacular of street furniture. The challenge was to create the right experience, an interesting intervention, something with multiple layers that could react to the environment.A place where people would be able to appreciate the physical experience at the same time as virtually checking out what’s going on locally.

After various iterations, we arrived at a large horizontal window that refracts the sky during the day and is illuminated at night. The overhanging angled rim will frame the user’s view and create a strong contrast between the matte black patterned steelwork and the faceted hand-cut solid-crystal prisms. These areas are symmetrical on both top and bottom so will create a kaleidoscopic view of the sky, and when the sunshines, thousands of rainbows will unexpectedly burst on to the floor below.”

Anyone passing beneath its canopy will be linked, via Ripple Inc’s Traces smartphone app to a wealth of ever-changing curated content related to their surroundings –ranging from local maps and inspiring community stories to offers from shops, pubs and restaurants.

What’s in a Name?

The Ommatidium is named after the individual units that make up the compound eyes of many insects, anod towards the structural and functional resemblance between the clusters of photoreceptors in thearthropod eye and the 3m crystal lattice that forms the installation’s canopy.

A Prism and a Beacon

When struck by sunlight, the Ommatidium’s crystal lenses paint 5,000 rainbows onto the pavement, creating patterns of dancing light and colour that change with the sun’s path through the sky. It is deliberately positioned in a location that offers optimal sunlight. By night, powerful LEDs illuminate the canopy, turning the Ommatidium into a gleaming beacon on Old Street – a site that receives more than 10 million people in passing traffic every year.